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ABR reading series begins with author's journey into writing

By APRILL BRANDON
Sept. 2, 2010 at 4:02 a.m.

Prolific author and creative writing guru, John Dufresne, did a reading of one of his short stories Thursday as part of the American Book Review reading series at the University of Houston-Victoria. Dufresne also talked about how he got his start in writing in front of a large audience, which consisted of high school and college students, as well as community members.

Upcoming American Book Review speakers:Sept. 23 - Diana Lopez, Corpus Christi native and author of pre-teen novel "Confetti Girl"

Oct. 21 - Amelia Gray, whose book, "Museum of the Weird," is being released in September by Fiction Collective Two based at the University of Houston-Victoria

Nov. 4 - Ann Weisgarber, author of "The Personal History of Rachel DuPree"

Dec. 2 - E. Ethelbert Miller, literary activist and author of "In Search of Color Everywhere"

Although he is now known as a creative writing guru, it was a long and winding road that got author John Dufresne where he is today.

That journey was the topic of Dufresne's speech Thursday as the first speaker for the 2010 American Book Review fall reading series.

In front of a packed auditorium at the University of Houston-Victoria, which included high school and college students as well as community members, Dufresne spoke about how a kid growing up in the projects became the author of multiple novels, short story collections and two writing guides.

"I grew up in a housing project in Massachusetts and it was a place I had to leave in order to become a writer. There were 3,000 kids that lived in the housing project, none of whom wrote or read anything as far as I knew," he said. "We didn't have any books in the house I grew up in. Eventually I did learn to enjoy reading but it wasn't necessarily the books I was reading in school, which were all these stories about kids that owned horses and robins nesting in the tree out front and the cops were nice. Not that they were bad stories, but I couldn't find myself in them."

Dufresne added that he probably became a writer because he was a reader first, reading everything from J.D. Salinger to Ernest Hemingway. However, he first spent seven years of his adult life as a social worker. After a while, he realized writing was his true passion and he applied for college.

"We had a visiting writer once and he said 'only three of you will be writing in five years.' I looked around me and thought 'who are the other two?'" he laughed. "But I never thought I'd get published."

Get published he did, with novels such as "Requiem, Mass.," "Louisiana Power & Light," and "Love Warps the Mind a Little" under his belt. In addition, he also teaches writing as a professor in the Master of Fine Arts program at Florida International University in Miami.

Considering writing is merely storytelling, however, the biggest writing teachers Dufresne had were the women in his family who would gossip in the kitchen as he listened and a Georgia man by the name of Charlie, who was the best storyteller he's ever met, he said.

"Just listening to him taught me a lot. Telling stories is more important to me than writing. I always tell my students that the stories aren't in your head, you have to find them. Go out there," he added.

To illustrate the point, Dufresne then read his short story "Epithalamion" to the audience, which was inspired by a true story he heard from a student who made a deal with an immigrant to marry him so he could stay in the U.S.

"This actually happened. I was out to lunch with a group of students and one girl got there late. When we asked her how she was she said 'Fine. I'm getting married Friday,'" he said. "When asked about the guy she was marrying she then said 'I met him yesterday.'"

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